John McLellan: Blow for crime stats

Domestic violence is hard to prevent as it takes place behind closed doors. Picture: John Devlin
Domestic violence is hard to prevent as it takes place behind closed doors. Picture: John Devlin
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New Edinburgh crime figures under discussion today appear to paint a reassuring picture, with assaults, vandalism, housebreaking and drug dealing all falling in the six months up to the end of September.

As revealed in yesterday’s News, we’re even speeding far less, if the data contained in a report signed off by Edinburgh police commander Mark Williams for today’s Police and Fire Scrutiny Committee is to be believed.

Stung by criticism earlier this year, increased attention to housebreaking seems to have paid off with a 20 per cent drop, but 766 break-ins over the period is still a lot of unhappy families. Detection has shot up from 21 per cent of cases to 37, back to the average before the old special housebreaking team was controversially disbanded.

Further examination of the report shows a dramatic slump in drug dealing from 301 to 164 incidents, a fall of 45 per cent which the police attribute to the effects of Operation Amend, their campaign against organised crime. It resulted in 80 convictions and presumably rendered most of the subjects temporarily unable to conduct their business from the confines of one of Her Majesty’s prisons.

Maybe the success in banging up so many undesirables, or the temporary absence of heavies leaning on junkies to settle their debts, is behind the drop in assaults and housebreakings?

Total violence is down from 441 to 442 and thankfully on only four occasions did the now immortal words “There’s been a murder” echo round Fettes, compared to five in the same period last year. Helpfully, the report explains: “Reported murder is down 20 per cent on last year to date. This equates to one fewer victims.”

On the road, the fall in the number of motoring offences is quite startling: speeding down 58 per cent (from 1502 incidences), driving licence breaches down 45 per cent (from 380), driving without insurance down 29 per cent (from 810), seat belt offences down nearly 60 per cent (from 1246) and using a mobile phone behind the wheel down 55 per cent (from 1335).

According to the report this is because “roads policing officers are currently deployed in areas of particular significance to provide a high visibility presence and education”, which is plod-speak for blitzing trouble spots and giving errant drivers both a ticket and a right-old ticking off.

However there are two areas of concern, both affecting women: an increase in indecency offences (up from 441 to 490) and domestic violence up to a shocking 2900 incidents from 2728.

The rise in indecency offences is put down to a change in the way such offences are recorded, but the domestic violence figures are explained away by better policing giving victims more confidence to come forward. This may well be the case, although it’s funny how the police claim the credit for everything going the right way and absolve themselves for figures in the opposite direction.

Coincidentally, another senior officer, Superintendent Matt Richards, chose this week to launch a blistering attack on licensing convener Eric Milligan because, he argued, the number of alcohol licences being granted by the council was pulling police resources into the city centre which could be better deployed in the suburbs tackling, you guessed it, domestic violence.

The link between domestic violence and alcohol is well established – the spike after big football matches is no fluke – but it is not the only cause. In fact the victims of abuse where drink plays no part would find their situation that little bit easier to understand if it was. Robust as ever, Councillor Milligan says there is no definitive evidence to support the criticism of his committee’s decisions and while more work would be needed to get close to a conclusive view, the police’s own numbers seem to be on his side. If the growing numbers of city centre drinks licences are hampering crime-fighting elsewhere then surely at a time when police strength is at best static the level of assault and antisocial behaviour would go up not down?

And again, if the police are less able to tackle domestic abuse then why are detection rates commendably high and rising, going from about 77 to 79 per cent?

For the victims, living with domestic violence is a sentence from which there is no parole and Superintendent Williams’ report is right to highlight the importance of dealing with it. But it happens behind closed doors and even if every police officer available patrolled the streets of a single estate it would not stop. As the report points out, the key is the confidence to report incidents, but it is also the confidence to know there is support, and that is not necessarily a police matter.

Putting a moratorium on alcohol licences will do very little to change patterns of existing behaviour when cheap booze is already widely available and would be open to challenge anyway.

The police, and other critics like NHS Lothian chief executive Tim Davison are on stronger ground on cost rather than availability of alcohol but legislating to increase the price of alcohol has mired the Scottish Government in all sorts of difficulties which were buried by the referendum campaign.

Having a kick at Eric Milligan is one thing, but for serving policemen or health administrators to have a pop at the Scottish Government is not the wisest career move these days.

The real solutions lie in better health and social education from the earliest possible age and a cultural shift which will take years to achieve. Maybe the real booze revolution will begin next month when the new drink-drive limit snares scores of previously innocent people the morning after. Don’t think the cops won’t be ready.

Hogmanay needs to cover all costs

The change in attitude towards saunas and the house-breaking controversy were the two most visible signs that Police Scotland was going to be a different beat to Lothian & Borders.

Now comes a new national policy which means the city has been landed with a £250,000 bill for policing Edinburgh’s Hogmanay because it’s deemed to be a commercial event.

The only answer is to hike the ticket price and risk damaging attendance. With a crowd of 80,000, it would mean the cheapest ticket going up from £22 to £25, less than the price of a city centre pint so maybe the risk isn’t so great.

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is said to generate £30m for the city and that can’t be put at risk, but once a fee was levied for walking our own streets and commercial operators brought in to run the whole show at a profit, it’s not unreasonable for others involved to want their costs covered too.

Tram stops sound like transport turkeys

It must be a real privilege to be a senior employee at Transport for Edinburgh, to know that if you fall out with your colleagues you can walk away with two years’ money.

As I argued last week, competitive businesses need to offer competitive packages, but golden bullets worth two years’ pay seems extraordinarily generous.

Until the fall-out of the row between chief executive Ian Craig and his three directors is resolved, the company will effectively be ticking over, with events like this weekend’s rugby international at Murrayfield to brighten the days. It won’t be a bumper crowd, but at least it will get the tram numbers up at a stop which normally looks deserted.

Which made me wonder what the passenger numbers are like at the different stations, so I asked what I thought was a straightforward question. You can, after all, go to the Office of the Rail Regulator’s website and access full details of passenger use for every one of the UK’s 2500 railway stations.

The question is, how many people would notice if there were no stops at Balgreen, Saughton, Bankhead, or Murrayfield on a normal day, given the presumption is that the service is used by tourists or Edinburgh Park/Gyle commuters.

But according to TfE, such information is commercially sensitive and all it will say is that the 90,000 passengers a week is “in line with the business model”, whatever that means.

Its statement continued: “Some tram stops are busier than others, and this is to be expected. We always want to see growth and further use of the service but we are content with progress at this stage.”

But why the secrecy? Surely a rival transport operator is no more going to set up against the tram than with the airport bus link, which is cheaper and faster? And are the likes of First Group going to pile in with new routes in Balgreen when Lothian Buses already serves it so well?

Commercial sensitivity is one thing, but commercial embarrassment is entirely different, and until they can demonstrate otherwise, we’ll just have to assume that the in-between stops are transport turkeys.

Try something differernt

There is an enormous banner across the side of the Usher Hall trying to entice customers with the promise of Symphonies for Sundays to wind down the weekend.

I gave it a go last weekend with a concert by an orchestra widely regarded as one of the greatest orchestras in the world, the St Petersburg Philharmonic, conducted by a giant of the classical music world, Yuri Temirkanov.

For all the right reasons, it was never going to be gentle relaxation, with stunning performances of Shostakovich’s 10th Concerto with soloist Nikolai Lugansky.

The hall was busy but by no means full, but much busier than it was a fortnight ago for another equally superb evening with Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra led by violin superstar Pinchas Zukerman.

These kind of events would be sell-outs in places like Moscow, yet for a city with such a strong cultural reputation as Edinburgh, guaranteeing audiences for what are world-class performers is a struggle.

Full marks to the Usher Hall for the marketing of their Sunday offerings, but in these straightened financial times it’s hard to see what can be done to get more bums on seats at what are truly stunning performances.

Tonight there is a performance of Elgar’s Enigma Variations by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and on Sunday, November 16 Edinburgh lad Donald Runnicles is back in town with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and a programme including Beethoven’s 9th. Go on, try something different and be prepared to be knocked out.

Take the budget challenge

Have you taken the challenge? No not the ice bucket, but it I don’t doubt Edinburgh Council’s budget challenge will be getting a fairly cold reception.

It’s a wee website stunt by which you the cost-conscious citizen can try to balance the council’s books by lopping five per cent chunks off various departmental budgets and the site helpfully explains the consequences of your actions.

Of course the whole thing is rigged to make sure you think all of your actions are dreadful and so quickly sympathise with the terrible dilemma facing our elected representatives as they wrestle with ways to save £50m from a total of about £1bn.

But then knowing it’s rigged kills the sympathy so it’s pointless. And there is no button for “cutting useless PR wheezes”.